Recipes for painterly gesture:
21 August 2019
In a couple of weeks I will be re-making Secret Action Painting (5) on site at Leeds Art Gallery as part of this year’s ‘Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ exhibition. This involves producing a wall-based composition from modular parts, and a slightly precarious installation method of using paint as glue. The coloured wooden panels will be back-painted and pressed together, so that material agency plays a part in determining the composition, for instance, relying on the viscosity of the paint and weight of the panels to trigger a moment of ‘action’.
Whilst there are a number of factors which might affect the outcome (the temperature of the gallery, for instance, or the texture of the wall can change how the work ‘sticks’) it is anticipated that traces of the installation process will remain visible, making gestural marks on the gallery walls. The ‘action’ of this painting is threefold; placement, accident and interruption, producing a composition that involves chance, but will be edited. This is predictable through a rough knowledge of how the materials will perform.
A historical precedent for my pre-occupation with the wet/dry dynamic of painting can be located in Ed Ruscha’s 1970s - Stainsseries . Systematically testing 75 ingredients, ranging from bacon fat to tabasco, Ruscha noted his disappointment with certain materials as they dried, for instance, baked beans lost their colour too quickly, whilst carnations and mustard simply won’t adhere to a surface.
The appeal of recipes is that they allow an action to be repeated, offering a first-hand experience of materials. For example, to think about painterly gesture further I suggest Willem de Kooning’s bespoke method of mixing oil and water into paint, so that it handles with a greater fluidity, or acts ‘like mayonnaise’.
Recipe for de Kooning paint:
21.5g Cerulean Cobalt blue pigment
3.5g Cold-pressed linseed oil
7g Poppy Oil
7.7g Poland spring water
3g Ethyl Alcohol
Note: Mix pigment with linseed oil first, then add other ingredients. Whip for 30 mins.
[Recipe courtesy of Sarah Pettitt]
 Discussed by Briony Fer in The Infinite Line: Remaking Art After Modernism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press: 2004), pp. 145-154 (p. 147).
 Conservator John Brealey uses this description to counter the popular misconception that de Kooning actually used mayonnaise as an ingredient in his paint recipes. Quoted by Dawn V. Rogola, ‘Would you like that with or without Mayo? How Interdisciplinary Collaboration Slows the Spread of Popular Misconceptions in Modern Art Scholarship’, in The Explicit Material: Inquiries on the Intersection of Curatorial and Conservation Cultures, ed. by Hanna B. Hoelling, Francesca G. Bewer and Katharina Ammann, (Netherlands: Brill: 2019), pp. 236-250 (p. 246).